— Chapter Twelve: Dark Shadows —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
Stewart was elated for the opportunity made possible by the collaboration between his guidance counselor at Temple and Fenimore. The human resources director of the plant contacted Stewart a week before he was scheduled to begin, and informed him that he was to report to Doug Seiler, the Director of Marketing, at 8:30 on Monday, January 30th. He reminded Stewart to bring with him his drafting tools, including a set of technical pens in a variety of point sizes.
Stewart had expected to be placed in engineering, and had received no further information from Fenimore stating otherwise, even though the two had never discussed the program in which he was enrolled during their interview.
The drive to the factory from Stewart’s home was less than 15 minutes.He arrived early on the scheduled date, and parked around the corner of the factory, in an empty lot on Eagle Road. He remained there until he saw other cars arriving, at the which point he found a space in the parking lot and entered the building with five minutes to spare.
Stewart walked through the reception area, which was painted pink, past blowup photos of products the company manufactured, including: the El Bubble candy cigar, the Swell twist-wrap, the Magic Color chewing gum, Cry Baby extra-sour, and selections from the various collectible cards the company used as purchasing incentives. At the receptionist desk he was greeted by a well-dressed woman in her early forties who asked if he had an appointment. He told her that he did, and that he was there to see Mr. Seiler, the man who was to be his boss. She asked Stewart to be seated and contacted the Marketing Director on the intercom.
Stewart waited about ten minutes for Seiler to arrive. When he showed up, Seiler apologized for the wait and escorted Stewart down a long pink- and-aqua-colored hallway to a modern, brightly lit office perfectly suited for the small staff. The walls were white and ten feet high with a large Swell logo mounted above Seiler’s desk. Colorful Peter Max prints were hung above several flat storage files that stretched across one wall, leaving four-foot aisles between three columns of drafting tables, each outfitted with a sliding straight edge, a taboret for tools, and a telescoping drafting stool. A door to the right of Seiler’s desk led to a room designated as the “Dark Room,” and another door led to the print shop behind which a middle-aged black man had already filled the press’s chambers with ink and could be heard starting up the press.
Seiler questioned Stewart about his work experience, and Stewart told him that he was being trained as a draftsman and a structural and mechanical designer, and had used the skills he had learned at Temple in the engineering department at Stein Seal Company. He also let Seiler know that his mother was an artist, and that he had learned to draw and illustrate from watching her at home when she was working on freelance assignments. He had used press-type lettering, and Benday pattern sheets, and was skilled with technical pens, templates, proportion wheels, and slide rules, as well as traditional drawing pens and watercolor.
Stewart brought samples of both his structural drawing and his cartoons to show his new boss, and Seiler seemed comfortable with the capabilities of his new apprentice.
“You realize that this isn’t a creative job,” stated Seiler. “The fellows and girl who will be arriving in just a moment are responsible for the copy, design and finished art for most of the products in our line which, as you may have seen, is pretty basic. Your job will be to relieve them of some of the production tasks, such as drawing borders, cutting overlays, and setting type either on our Selectric typewriter, or using transfer type.”
“I’m okay with that,” answered Stewart,“but I’ve never cut overlays.”
“It’s not difficult, except when using various layers for 4-color process printing. All of our Swell bubble gum wrappers are produced in full-color as well as the cartoons that appear on the reverse sides. We currently have a line of Lone Ranger transfer stickers, and are working on a new series of wallet cards based on the TV show Dark Shadows. We’re also adding to our series of cards on World War II, with the front panel of each featuring a black and white photo from the war, and the back being used for copy based on news released during the war by the British War Office.
“We also have a set of James Bond cards and a new series of Crazy Comics. Our most successful set of cards is the series of NFL players. It’s a coup for our company since Topps has the AFL contract. We use the back of each card for stats and copy about the player.”
At this point in the introduction, Seiler pulled out an uncut sheet of the NFL cards and began to explain the process. “The size of each sheet is 30” x 40” and contains 110 cards. The number of cards is based on the number of players or images determined for a run. In the NFL series, some cards appear multiple times on a sheet, while others are limited to only one or two, which make those cards more difficult for collectors to acquire than others.”
“So that’s why certain Philly players were harder to find when I was collecting baseball cards as a kid, while I seemed to have many more than my share of Mickey Mantle.”
“Correct. We will often make shorter runs of some designs over others to increase their value.”
At this point in the conversation the members of the marketing team had begun to arrive and were headed to their boards. There were three males and one female. Each wore colorful, contemporary outfits including bell-bottoms and loose-fitting tops with flowing sleeves. The men, all under the age of 35, had longish hair, and two had long mustaches. The girl appeared to be in her 20s and wore sandals and a wooden-bead necklace. Her hair was dirty-blond and came down to her waist.
Seiler called over to a lanky guy who looked a little like John Lennon, and was the first to be set up at his board. “Jeff Dodds. Meet Stewart Little. He’ll be working with us for the next few months to provide some backup.”
Dodds looked Stewart over, and smirked before responding loudly, and enough for the others setting up to hear, “You mean, like the mouse, ‘Stuart Little.’”
Stewart responded quickly, “My name is spelled S-T-E-W-A-R-T, like the actor in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart. The mouse’s name is spelled S-T-U-A-R-T.”
“Then that clears things up,” answered Dodds, laughing. “So how are you going to help us?”
Seiler took hold of the conversation and explained to Dodds that Stewart was an engineering student from Temple, and that he’s in the co-op program that will provide a real-world experience for him before he gets his degree and goes out to work in his trade.
“So Doug,” said Dodds, “If he’s in engineering and we’re in marketing and design, how’s he supposed to help us?”
Seiler answered, “Stewart’s a very capable draftsman, and also has skills in art. He’s here to prepare mechanicals, cut overlays and set type, so you guys can put more time into the creation of our line of cards.”
Seiler continued by providing a short resumé of each of the people in the department. “Doug’s a graduate of Philadelphia College of Art with a degree in illustration. One of the projects that he’s currently working on is a series of pen-and-ink drawings of NFL players in action that will appear on the back of the cards along with their info and statistics.
“Carol Erickson went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Mike Duplee, over there behind Jeff, went to Hussian School of Art and Design. He’s trained in commercial design and media production. Both are retouchers, layout artists, photographers, and illustrators, and capable of preparing mechanical art for print production. They produce all of our graphics, displays, ads, art and promotional flyers, and create our package designs.
“Jules, who’s just arrived, is our writer, whose job it is to condense copy and the players’ resumés down to a few paragraphs, being careful to maintain the length of text to fit the same space for each card in a series. He’s also a great copy editor and has been instrumental in captioning the entire World War II series created in ‘64. Other than me, he’s been here the longest, and is a terrific asset to our team.
“And finally, Stewart, there’s me. I coordinate all of the production and advertising promotions, interfacing between management and the franchises with which we are currently working and with others the firm hopes to include in its line of products in the future. It’s also my job to maintain the quality of our content and the quantity of product available to keep customers enthused with our brand and our service.”
Stewart was impressed with Seiler’s range of tasks, and also with the abilities of his co-workers. After the introductions, Seiler directed Stewart to the drawing table in the back row next to an open board nearest to the print room. The printer saw him and waved to him as his press clicked through its cycle.
Stewart unpacked his gear and arranged his tools in the taboret. Halfway through the task, he asked Mike, who was seated in front of him, for directions to the restroom. Without answering Stewart, he pointed to the door. As Stewart passed by Carol’s table, he noticed a stack of photos and a roll of frisket paper she was using to mask NFL players from their backgrounds in preparation for airbrushing. He continued to watch as she removed the frisket from the background and sprayed a fine mist of white gouache over everything but the player who was to be the focus of the card. Her airbrush was connected by a cable to a tank of compressed air, at which she’d curse when the airbrush spit out water or got clogged with paint, producing an uneven spray. At one point she looked up and saw Stewart watching her, and waited for him to leave before continuing.
Jules, who sat in front of Carol, was working at a typewriter perched on his taboret. He had dozens of still photos from the TV show Dark Shadows spread out on his drawing table. Jules seemed confused as Stewart passed by and appeared to be attempting to merge copy with the black and white stills lent to the firm by the producers of the show. Stewart asked Jules if he could assist him in any way, and Jules confessed that he wasn’t a fan of the show, and was depending on past issues of TV Guide to get a sense of the characters and plotlines in order to caption the photos on the back of each card.
Although Stewart also wasn’t a fan of Dark Shadows, he knew quite a bit about it since his good friend Sharon was a fan. She had started watching it in its first season, and was usually home from her studies at Charles Morris Price when the show aired at 4:00 each weekday afternoon. Most people who worked a regular job didn’t get home from work until after 5:00, and weren’t familiar with the show that became a trend amongst teenagers who finished their day at school at 3:00 and could make it home for its 4:00 p.m. broadcast.
The second season became even more popular as it introduced a vampire, Barnabas Collins, along with an assortment of ghosts, werewolves and zombies that populated the fictitious village of Collingsport, Maine.
Frustrated by the assignment, Jules asked Stewart, “Do you know anything about Dark Shadows? Doug just dumped this on my desk along with a little information and some TV Guides, but I don’t know where to begin since I can’t even match up the people in the photos with the cast and characters.”
Believing that it would be to his benefit to establish an ally in a group that seemed a bit put out by his hiring, Stewart responded, “If you have a little time, and would like me to get you some information, I could borrow the photos and show them to a friend of mine who watches the show nearly every day, and see if she can identify the characters and shed some light on what’s going on in the photos.”
“That would be great, if you would...what’s your name again?”
“Oh yes, like the mouse.”
Stewart ignored the slam, and helped Jules package the photos that were strewn across his table.
“I’ll stop over at her house tonight, and get back to you tomorrow morning with what I can find out.”
“Uh...thanks, Stewart,” said Jules, returning to the NFL project he had been working on before being assigned to the new project.
“If there’s anything else I can do to help, let me know.”
“Nah. I’m good for now.”
So Stewart took the photos back to his board and headed to the men’s room.
On his return he passed by Jeff’s board and saw him working on a “Crazy Comic” stick-on cover. Jeff was in the pencil stages of the sketch, which showed a weird-looking man or boy wearing a top hat and sticking out his tongue. The cartoon also showed two hands assembling two halves of the sticker into one.
“I like your cartoon,” volunteered Stewart.“ Is it your design?”
“Yeah,” he answered, while continuing to work.
“Did you take cartooning in school?”
“Nobody takes cartooning at school. I was a fine arts major.”
“So you paint?”
“Nope. I used to paint before I realized that there’s no way to make a living as a painter.”
Stewart had heard that many times in his life, most often from his mother, who had made it her mantra.
“Do you like what you’re doing here? It looks like fun to me,” asked Stewart.
“Look, Stewart,” said Jeff. “If you don’t mind, I need to get this done. This is my third attempt, and Seiler’s kicked it back to me each time. He said the character should look “crazy,” not evil, and he wanted the human hands put in, which to me looks stupid.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” said Stewart as he backed away, but then paused and said, “Maybe you should make the eyes a bit larger and don’t knit the brow so much.”
Jeff gave Stewart a nasty look and then turned back to his drawing and called Stewart a prick under his breath, but loud enough to be heard. Stewart knew he’d gone too far, but he knew that Jeff was going to be hard to please no matter what he said.
Before making his way back to his table, Mike called over to him. “Do ya’ know how to cut overlays, Stewart?”
Stewart answered, “I’ve cut friskets with an X-Acto knife. Is there any difference?”
“Not much,” responded Mike. “It’s kind of the opposite process from frisketing, in that you leave the amber lacquer coating on the parts that you want to be in color and then label the color with its PMS color.”
“PMS color?” asked Stewart.
“Boy, you don’t know much, do you? PMS is a standardized color system used to match colors anywhere in the world. There’s also a book that shows how to closely match the color using a 4-color process.”
“So what do you need done, Mike?”
“I need the logo and boxes filled with different colors for the different teams. Do you know how to spec type?”
“No, but I can learn.”
“I’ll give you the calculator, but the copy is pretty consistent to space out. Jules writes approximately the same amount of copy for each card, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll give you the colors used for each team, and a sketch of the photo to paste in place. Have you ever used wax to position type and art?”
“No, only rubber cement, but I’m willing to try anything. It’s best that I don’t have to spell too much, since I can miss things in copy.”
“Who doesn’t?” responded Mike. “Okay, I’ll get you started, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Stewart called Sharon when he got home and explained his work situation. He let her know that his department was filled with people who seemed dissatisfied with their jobs and who believed that they were working at a level that was far beneath their skill sets, their education, and their hopes for the future.
“My boss, Doug Seiler, seems the only one who enjoys his work and finds any worth in what he’s dong.”
Sharon responded “So you need an assessment of Dark Shadows and a short description to tie the story to the characters together with those portrayed in the cast?”
“Precisely,” said Stewart. “Can I bring over the photos to you tonight?”
“Yes, but please get them to me early. Brian and I are going to see The Graduate at the Tower tonight.”
“I hear it’s a great film,” answered Stewart, a bit jealous that Sharon wasn’t seeing it with him.
“Yes, but it’s also a bit cynical from what I’ve read about it.”
“Brian should like it then,” offered Stewart.
“Yes. He does have a bit of the cynic in him,” admitted Sharon.
Stewart let his mother know that he’d be out for a while and wouldn’t be back for dinner. She asked no questions, and he planned to stop at McDonald’s for a burger before coming home to read up on calculating font size, type leading and spacing from the instructions he got from Mike.
Sharon was still home with her parents when he arrived, and they invited him to stay for dinner, which he accepted. He missed Sharon’s company, and he knew in his heart that if there was anyone he truly loved, it was her. He also knew that he didn’t want to be her boyfriend, or be married to her. He just instinctively knew that he loved her in a way that he’d never loved anyone before.
He’d been confused for some time about the nature of love, and had wondered if he truly even loved his parents. He realized that there is nothing tangible about love. It’s unrelated to any desire for sex, and is private, intense and bewildering. When Sharon was around him, he was calmed by her — just being near her. When he tried to tie it to physical attraction, the relationship fragmented.
So he had to deal with Brian, and befriend him as much as possible.
He took the photos from the envelope and gave them to her before she left on her date. She promised Stewart that she’d have what he needed by 8:00 the next morning.
“This is not a difficult assignment,” she said, as she left for her bedroom to get ready for her date.
Stewart knew that he could trust Sharon, and was thankful to have her as a friend, He also knew that he would always feel the same about her, no matter how distant they might become geographically, and despite all other relationships they would have in their lives.
Before Sharon finished getting ready for her date, Stewart thanked her parents and headed home feeling ecstatic over the prospect of the impact her input would make on Jules the next morning.